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How to Get the Best Value When Trading In Your Car

Selling cars can be stressful.  Making a good price match for the used vehicle that you need to say goodbye to may be confusing.  It becomes even more confusing when you are using it for a trade in.  Car Lots exist to make money, and they typically will buy your car at below the Blue Book price so that they can make money on reselling it either at auction, or on the lot. Or, in some cases, for scrap because let’s face it, some cars have seen their best days and need to be retired.

It can be tempting to refuse to use your car as a trade in, hoping to get more by selling it yourself.  This is definitely an option and very often works out well for the car seller.  However at times, either you need to trade in your car, for the down payment money or because the time and effort involved in selling the car yourself becomes too high a cost for you. 

So, how do you determine what a good price for your trade in is and how do you get it from a car lot?

If you happen to be in a situation where the car is upside down and you are attempting to downgrade to a more affordable vehicle, you are going to want to skip the trade-in all together.  You’re better off trying to sell the car yourself and pay off the remaining amount. However, there are many ways in which you can maximize your trade-in value, especially if your car is paid off.

The biggest favor you can do yourself is set aside some time for negotiation.  Preferably all day, maybe even a whole weekend.  The best way a dealer has of pressuring you is with time.  You know the drill; you’ve been sitting there in the office chair staring out at the car of your dreams for 6 or so hours while the salesman dealing with you runs back and forth to his boss trying to “sell your case.” (Hint, he’s not.  What he’s doing is stalling) Setting aside time takes the stress out of the wait.  Pack some snacks, bring a book and be prepared to walk away.  Really, most of the time if you are reasonable the salesperson does not want you walking away; they work on a commission.

Do your research and know how much your trade in is worth.  Look up the Kelly Blue Book price.  But also look places like Autotrader.com  and National Automobile Dealers Association.  You may even want to look at unconventional places like Craigslist and EBay. 

While you are researching, be honest with yourself.  Your car has probably done well by you, but we tend to overvalue our stuff.  That’s not to say you should undervalue it, just make sure you take into account all the dings and tears and strange noises. 

Clean your car up. There is some discrepancy in the world of car salesmen on this point.  Some salesmen state a cleaned up car saves them time and effort and shows better.  Others will tell you a spiffy car is an easy mark, because they know you need to trade it and are not going to leave without negotiating a trade in.  Again, whatever you decide to do a good rule of thumb with negotiation is to not be afraid to walk away.  Even if the car you want sells later that day, it’s not the last car of its kind in the world. But, if you do decide to do a cleaning don’t just do a usual once over, but have it detailed.  Detailing your car and shampooing the carpets could raise the amount of trade in value up to $500.  That’s worth a $100-$200 cleaning job.  Remember, the more you get on your trade-in the less your new car will cost you in interest and payments. 

Make sure you’re bringing it in for trade at a good time.  Winter is not a good time for say a convertible, but spring would be.  Also, take a look at the car lot first.  If it already has a lot of cars just like yours, the dealer is likely going to be selling it at auction and not keeping it on the lot.  That means they will be paying you less.

A lot of the time a trade-in is more beneficial to the buyer and the car dealership.  You get some money off your car and avoid the hassle of selling your old one and the dealer gets more stock.  You both want the same thing.  By doing your research and being patient, a trade-in can be a good experience and benefit to you.